The Console War Has Made Digital Content Too Important
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When the dust settles on the console war, what will really determine a winner?

The console war is one of those “conflicts” that seemingly will rage on forever. In that regard, shouldn’t it really be considered more of a feud? I mean, the word “war” denotes that there will be a definitive victor and looser left licking their wounds. Lately, it seems that console wars don’t end in winners and losers at all.

In an article regarding how financial ploys and marketing tactics often influence the launch of a gaming console, I touch on how the first few weeks and months after a console’s release typically plays out. While this goes a long way to shaping people’s first impressions, eventually the new wears off and we all fall into a kind of comfort zone. It’s this period where the fanboy frenzy seems to calm a bit, and we can start examining the systems more objectively, seeing how they perform in the real world vs. all the press kits and hype we’re indoctrinated with, telling us what we should expect.

There used to be one X-factor that would make or break a console. It’s not that simple anymore. With all the extra frills being offered by companies like Sony and Microsoft, it’s clear that this is their attempt to pacify the growing “digital” crowd, who need constant access to everything at once. In the past, it all came down to one thing: games. The games library of a console, often times, determined that system’s success over the years. At one point in time, exclusive releases were big factors. Many may not remember, but it wasn’t all that long ago that titles like WWE SmackDown (now WWE 2K14) and Grand Theft Auto were exclusives on the PlayStation. And lest we forget, many feel Microsoft’s place in the current- and next-gen console war was handed to it on a silver platter with the success of an exclusive title featuring a certain Master Chief.

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Now, although it’s not uncommon to find things like exclusive DLC for each console (the upcoming Batman: Arkham Origins features skins for the PS3 that are not available on the 360), it’s increasingly uncommon to find titles that are not available for both systems. With developers wanting to move away from exclusivity and offer their titles on a wider range of platforms, this has forced companies like Sony and Microsoft to start expanding beyond the traditional approach. In an interview with Eurogamer, Fergal Gara (head of Sony UK) touches on this fact by stating: “You've got to start good and keep on your toes. PS4 is a platform that can and will evolve.”

But what does an evolution like that look like?

Both Microsoft and Sony have made distinct efforts to expand the uses of their consoles beyond just gaming. If the war can no longer be won on the merits of each console’s game library alone, there must be some other measuring stick. This has led to things such as “dashboards” providing access to apps for other uses, apps such as watching movies and even browsing the Internet with your controller. However, in the context of the digital world, the trend of having access to your entire collection at the touch of a button is ever growing. This is where a service like cloud gaming can be a defining feature, giving a company the edge when trying to inch ahead in the next-gen landscape. Allowing gamers to download a title to their console and then have access to the same content at a friend’s house or even on a mobile device is the kind of feature that speaks to the always-on mentality of the digital world we find ourselves in.

Sony seems to be ahead of the curve on this particular issue, making it clear that this feature will be available with the PS4 at launch via Gaikai. Microsoft, after a negative reaction from the gaming community, had to reverse course on a decision that initially gave impressions it didn’t see the cloud concept as a huge priority for its console. In an article featured on The Verge, Microsoft seemingly wants gamers to know just how seriously it takes the idea now, prompting a demonstration of Halo 4 streaming to Windows and Windows Phones via its cloud service (currently in development). It seems this was reactionary to Sony hitting the nail on the head. This continues to be a feature that seems very important to gamers, and no doubt will be another one of those little +1s that eventually add up to a W in the win column.

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It’s hard to say if there’s any one thing that can determine a clear winner these days. It’s not just the innovations in how consoles integrate into your gaming lives, but also how they function as the nucleus of your entertainment center even when a game disc isn’t in the drive. Not to mention, with companies like Valve trying to carve out a spot in your living room with its Steam Machines (running its own operating system no less), it will be interesting to see just where this ride takes us by the time of the PS5 and Xbox Two releases.

One thing is for sure. If we continually get this much cool stuff thrown at us as a result of this ongoing “war”…then I say peace is overrated.

Jason Messer
Jason Messer
@J8sonMesser

Contributing Writer
Date: 09/30/2013

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